Ever since John McCain caught the Grand Old Party elephants with their trunks down by announcing Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice president choice, his desperate apparatchiks have been frantically flacking two kinds of information: "mis-" and "dis-."
They have been trying to convince you that she is excellently prepared to be one failed heartbeat away from being America’s commander-in-chief because she recently had a cup of coffee in Kuwait, her first trip outside the United States. Not with Mideast leaders of course, but with Alaska’s National Guard unit deployed there.
She is their "commander," they say. Never mind that she wasn’t in command of anything the guard was doing there — real Army generals do that. Also, McCain’s spinners gush about her experience to be America’s chief executive. Just 22 months as a governor, and six years as a mayor of a tiny town called Wasilla.
None of that explains why McCain chose her, of course. Sarah Palin was McCain’s ultimate feel-good selection. Which is to say: Choosing her made McCain feel good about himself.
Think about the McCain we know. He was always happiest performing as a self-styled courageous maverick. Fearlessly bucking his party’s entrenched leaders. Boldly standing up for his heartfelt convictions. Yet, in the days before announcing his first choice, he had caved in to his party’s conservative powers and zealots by reluctantly turning away from his clear first choice — the slim blond who had stood beside him publicly for months.
No, not Cindy — Joe Lieberman. McCain also reluctantly rejected his first Republican choice: Pennsylvania’s ex-Gov. Tom Ridge. Both were on the wrong side of the pro-life dominators of the GOP. And when they warned McCain the convention might revolt if he picked Lieberman or Ridge, McCain caved in.
None of the fallbacks made him feel good about himself. Then McCain’s mind wandered to Sarah Palin — and suddenly he saw a Klondike McCain. She was everything he’d liked about himself. She’d stood up to her state’s corrupt Republican establishment. She’d taken on the big oil special interests. She’d rejected that "Bridge to Nowhere" that Alaska’s old Sen. Ted Stevens rammed through the Congress, over McCain’s protests. She was he.
So McCain ran every stop sign and caution light. He’d just met her once, in February. He met her again, for just three hours — and impulsively offered her the job. Never mind that his team that had spent months vetting other prospects spent just hours on Palin. He didn’t know what he didn’t know. Didn’t even want to know.
Two days later, his pitchmen flailing and failing, McCain appeared on Fox News Sunday. "She’s a partner and a soul-mate," he gushed. "She’s a reformer."
Asked about her total lack of national security skills, in contrast to Lieberman or Ridge, he said: "But look, what this brings is a spirit of reform and change that is vital now in our nation’s capital."
Fox News’ Chris Wallace tried a question about Palin and Iraq: "In March of 2007, two months after the surge had started, she was asked about it, and she said: ‘I’ve been focused on state government. I haven’t focused on the war in Iraq.’"
McCain kept pitching his elixir: "Well, by the way, also she was a member of the PTA. I think it’s wonderful. But the point is she has been to Kuwait. … She has been with her troops, the National Guard that she commands. … I’m proud of her knowledge of these challenges and issues."
He may not know it yet, but his pride may be tested on global warming. McCain, being enlightened, has differed with President Bush and sided with scientists who warn of the peril caused by man-made greenhouse gases. But when Palin was asked about global warming, she told the conservative Newsmax.com that, while it would affect Alaska more than any other state, "I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made."
Unfortunately, the major global issues have been underplayed by a news media that instead intrusively hyped a private matter as if it were a public crisis. Led by hyperventilating cable news networks, the media over-covered the fact that Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant.
Lost in the chattering of the heads was one fact that bears on public policy. In her 2006 governor’s race, Palin opposed teaching contraception to teenage students, replying to a questionnaire from the conservative Eagle Forum: "The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."
McCain’s decision-making was impulsive and ill prepared. That is a caution light that voters dare not ignore, come November.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)